Presidential Election (when referring to the election for members of the Electoral College)
The quadrennial elections that are held in all 50 states and the District of Columbia on the first Tuesday after the first Monday are for members of the Electoral College (electors), not for president or vice president, even though it is the names of the candidates for president and vice president that are printed on the ballot. In other words, there is no direct presidential election, only indirect ones. Note my use of the plural elections; there is no "presidential election," only 51 separate elections. This distinction between the election for electors and for president and vice president has been widely lost. Thus, many people were surprised and even disturbed that George W. Bush became president even though his ticket lost the popular vote, which contributed to a sense among Democrats that his election was illegitimate, and undermined support for keeping the Electoral College, or at least some such system that helps to prevent the larger states from dominating the smaller ones.Similarly, we should avoid phrases like "I voted for so and so for president" or "so and so received x number of votes." It is better to refer to "the ticket" as having received these votes because that ticket's slate of candidates for elector are the ones who truly receive the votes, not the presidential and vice presidential candidates themselves. In the disputed Election of 2000, Democrats tried to bolster their case by arguing that Albert Gore had received more votes than Bush, but they both truly received an equal number of votes: zero.
President-Elect (before the Electoral College has voted)
The president and vice president are elected by the Electors on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December on those years the Electors are chosen. If the Electors fail to reach a majority for president, then the House of Representatives elects the president, and if the Electors fail to reach a majority for vice president, then they Senate elects the vice president. Although "faithless electors" are few (those who do not vote for their party's candidates), and there are sometimes disputes about their election or qualifications to hold the office of elector, the main point is to uphold the distinction between the election for electors and for president and vice president.